søndag den 18. februar 2018

Danielle at SUWS (The School of Urban and Wilderness Survival)

This testimony was found on Yelp. All rights belong to the original author

Do NOT send your children here. Every single positive review that you read (as you may notice) is NOT from somebody who attended here.

I was sent here when I was 15 years old. I was not a "bad kid", didn't do drugs or party; was simply going through a rebellious teenage phase where I back talked my parents a lot and they were concerned for my future. This place is legal torture. You are not allowed to talk to your peers. At several points, counselors would place bags over our heads to punish us for talking to other girls in our group.

In the 59+ days I spent living in the woods, we were provided 2 baths. 2. For some who are not comprehending this, that is one shower per month. Living in the woods. We were subjected to below freezing temperatures with NO winter clothing. We were forced to lug around bloody pads for a week at a time if you were female. A majority of the group I was in left with multiple physical issues (worms, staph infections, infected wounds, gangrene). Not only this, but all of our parents were lied to about the therapy we were receiving.

I am still in contact with several of the girls in my group, and every single one of us has developed a severe anxiety/PTSD type issue that has affected our lives. I came out way worse from this program than I ever was before. This is not a "camping trip" that the website and camp reps portray. Please understand that parents. Do ANYTHING besides send your child here. Myself and several other are actually filing a class action lawsuit against this place. There are so many other ways to help your child. Please, don't believe that this is one of them.....


søndag den 14. januar 2018

Open Sky Wilderness testimony

I attended Open Sky Wilderness Therapy for about 2 and a half months (or 10 and a half weeks) earlier this year. It has been a few months since I “graduated”. I did not go to an aftercare (or follow up program) and I am home now.

Before going, I had depression problems, drugs, being suicidal, all that good stuff. I was given the choice by my (new-ish) therapist after a serious drug incident to be hospitalized or to go to Open Sky. Going to a hospital did not seem great and I knew that he and my parents would get me over to Open Sky anyways. I reluctantly agreed to go with a sliver of faith that the program would help.

I arrived in the Durango airport, CO, and my father handed me to the program’s transporters (3 people in their mid-late 20s at most). I was driven to urgent care for a checkup, blood drawn, and a drug test. We went to a mexican place for lunch which was kinda nice. Then we went to “the ranch”: a dumpy shack they used for storage. There I handed over all my belongings and was handed my new set of belongings. It was standard stuff like rope, tarp, footwear, clothes, my weekly ration of unappetizing hippie food (the block of cheese was nice though), etc. We drove a long way over to the Utah desert in the middle of almost nowhere.

When I first arrived at the campsite and saw my group, I immediately knew I had made a mistake. Six boys, three guides, everyone covered in dust. Everything was dirty. The guides were young like the transporters, whereas I was hoping they’d be older and more experienced. I was on “gateway”, as all new patients are, where I sit separate from everyone with a guide and get a student mentor. I was placed on “high safety watch” because of being suicidal, which meant a guide was within arm’s reach at all times, and a bunch of other annoying safety precautions. At night, I had to sleep in the guides tent with a tarp over me and a guide at each side.

The next day we did a 6 mile day hike (no pack, just a small satchel of stuff) through the desert valley. The day went pretty standard, which I’ll outline in a bit. What was important about the second day was that I fully understood the program that day. One of the largest themes of the program was copious consequences and trivial rewards. Consequences were things like 20 minutes of silence for cursing, having the entire group walk to someone's shelter if they forgot something, or “drills” where if you didn’t do something in a slotted amount of time you’d have to do it over again until you made the time. Drills applied to things like washing cups, making shelters, putting on backpack, packing up, and other things. There wasn’t much reward other than you get to make a quesadilla (called cheesy torts. There was a weird vocabulary here) if you bow drill a fire (bust a fire), or bs like “sense of accomplishment” for things. This system is designed to basically shrink your world. I pledged myself that I would not become a dog to the consequence-reward system that day. It actually worked out that fire busting and hard skills came natural to me and I basically never got in trouble. That basically made it so I was immune to this part of the program.

There are essentially four steps to the program: the four “directions”. South>West>North>East. The South is learning hard skills like pointless knots and building construction packs (c-packs, a backpack from tarp and string). In the south you get your impact letter, usually a week or so into the program. That letter is your parents listing all the reasons for being sent to the program. You must read it out loud, in full, to the entire group. You then respond to the letter by mostly repeating it to your parents so they feel heard. The south lasted 5 weeks for me, which was within normal range.

The West you get a backpack. In the west you’re supposed to do deep self discovery. This is where most of your work gets done and it generally takes a similar or longer time than the south. One of the important things you do in the west is a letter of responsibility, or the impact letter response with more “i'm a screw up and I regret the past”. I spent the remainder up till the last few days in the west.

The north you get a headlamp, and it's all about leadership. Leadership, leadership, leadership. The east basically you are a master at the program and you are perfect woohoo. There's a book “the student pathway” where guides sign off various things like makes a fire or weekly things like was a positive influence. You’re supposed to get everything signed off to move. In practice, your guides or therapist just move you whenever and most people graduate in the north. I had about half the things signed before I moved to each direction. You graduate whenever your therapist and parents decide. 10-12 weeks is normal (weighted towards long stays).

The program actually moved to Colorado on my 3rd day, so I’m speaking from that point of view (setting only changes a few things anyways). The week looked as such: Wednesday is guide changes and food (and other needed items) distribution as well as “group meditation” (everyone comes together to do yoga and meditation and see the graduates leaving), thursday you leave for expedition, you get back to base camp monday, tuesday is chores, shower (pouring water from a watersack over you with pisspoor shampoo and conditioner), and meet with therapist. Tuesday you also send a letter in response to the letter you received from your parents the week before, and then you get a new letter from them. Therapist reads all letters (but not censors) by the way. About the food. Weekly personal food was 2 bags of peanuts with raisins (“gorp”), one bag of oats and raisins (“muesli”), one bag of straight oats for oatmeal (no sugar ever), a 1 lb block of cheese, and four pieces of any mix of oranges and apples. You get 1 hot meal per day, which is dinner. Dinner often came out to be a crappy tasting quinoa mush with vegetables or whatever. Students cooked the meals and sometimes the ingredients were good to make something like cheesy steak fries. My group had some good cooks but if you don’t have real creative people you’re out of luck for a not disgusting meal.

One week, I snuck a meal plan past a new guide which meant we had a meal of just mashed potatoes and other cooked tomatoes. On expedition you hike to a different random campsite each day. Usually there's a “layover day” where you stay at a campsite for 2 consecutive days which is actually really helpful. You hike carrying all your stuff you need for the expedition and some group items. The shortest day of hiking I’ve had was around an hour, and the longest was eight. It’s pretty variable, and also the longer hikes were used as a tool to draw out difficult emotions. It was nothing excessive, but there was one time during an 8 hour day where the last hour and a half a guy had run out of water, and since Open Sky has a strict no sharing of consumables policy for “health reasons” (you wear the same clothes a week straight so I’m calling bs), he just had to go on until we reached camp (I give this example not because I think of it as abusive, but to highlight another one of the stupid program rules).

The one of the main goals of the program is dealing with hard emotions and being vulnerable. You’re expected to be willing to share basically everything with everyone. They treat it like everyone in the group (and program, parents, therapist) has the right to know everything about you. Because you’re not willing to share past trauma or deep things you are ingenuine. For me personally, I am selective of who I share things with. It does not mean I can’t open up; I just choose not to. I also do not wear my emotions on my sleeve.

At Open Sky, god forbid you’re an introvert. They try to funnel you into this narrow definition of a good, functioning person: extroverted, super vulnerable, positive, and open. There’s this thing called “busting and ‘I feel’” where you call the entire group to stop everything and listen to you say “I feel ____ when __. I believe I feel this way because _. My request [goal] for myself is _. My request for the group is __.” You can do this for any emotion, and you can imagine the really trivial ones that are called sometimes. I hated doing it. Didn’t do anything for me and I hate being the center of attention. Basically my therapist’s entire treatment plan for me was around “busting I feels”. It held me back a great deal the fact that I hated doing it. I’d tell my therapist that it was pointless and not helping (because I actually did give it some effort). To this she’d only have my weekly goals to do more of them.

Another main goal of the program was relationship building with parents. It was evident a few weeks in that you’re not there for you; you’re there for your parents. Your parentals decide how long you stay. They decide where you go next. This power dynamic of non-adult patients basically having their legal rights in the hands of their parents ends up being the child conforms to the parents’ demands. Now to talk about the guides as a whole. I actually really liked the guides. They can be characterized generally as young, not wealthy hippies, who truly believe that they are making a positive change in the world through working for this program. They were of really strong character, which also meant they enforced the stupidly strict rules of the program. Their only qualifications really are that they are good people and can hike.

By each kid’s end of Open Sky journey, they generally appear to be very much improved and have high hopes going out, which affirms the guides work. The guides generally don’t contact people after they leave. I don’t hold anything against the guides, because I built some decent relationships with them and they are just trying to make ends meet and do meaningful work. Bonus: they mostly live out of their cars.

My therapist is another story however. As outlined earlier, she was mostly ineffective in helping me. In regards to the aforementioned safety watch, she moved me to medium safety watch (guide gotta be within 10 feet, but no other restrictions really) after a week and a half and kept me there for another 2 weeks. She used it less as a safety precaution and more of leverage to get people to be vulnerable. The only thing she knew of how each week went was what the guides told her. I’d get 1 hour long session with her a week. That's it. So essentially I only got one hour of actual professional therapy per week. In session we’d talk about how my week was, I’d say some emotions I felt about things that might aswell be drawn from hat, and I’d get my weekly goals (the sharing I feels goals).

After I left the program, my parents told me that she had been pressing my parents to keep me in longer and to send me to “aftercare”. The therapists relentlessly pressure parents to do this to milk as much money as possible. I never got to like her throughout the program, just hate her slightly less. My therapist was probably like other therapists: second rate therapists who went to low tier colleges for their degrees (one I knew of didn’t even have one). I also got 2 phone calls during my time there, one in the middle and one at the end. The one at the end was just about going home logistics so it hardly counted. You sit with your therapist during those calls, which is how they keep you from asking to be taken home.

Few people ever get to go home after the program. I actually went home (after a trip to China hehe) because I was a) turning 18 a week after I left and I sure as hell not going to aftercare and b) because my parents wanted me home and I had very little history with any sort of therapy. I only knew 2 other people who went home, and that was because their families simply did not have the money. Towards the end of the stay you meet an educational consultant, and they tell your parents where to send you based on probably an hour long meeting. Everyone thinks they’re going home right up until it’s decided where they’re going. Everyone thinks they’re special and their parents are not like the other ones who send their kids away. I was the only one for whom that belief was true.

A few months later, I find myself worse off than before. I have to maintain a fake relationship with mother. My therapist (who sent me to open sky) is a proxy therapist just to keep school happy. I have no support, no friends, nothing. If you’re a parent thinking of sending your child there, don’t. You’ll end up paying $50k to make your kid fit your ideals. It won’t make them better. If you’re someone who’s parents want to send you to somewhere like Open Sky or even any therapeutic institution, your parents can have you snatched from your room whenever they want. I can’t give any other advice than to do everything you can in order to stay out of this system. I was really lucky to only spend 2 and a half months in the troubled teen industry. I can almost guarantee you won’t be as lucky as me.


torsdag den 5. oktober 2017

Phoenix Outdoor wilderness program testimony

This testimony was found on Yelp.com. All rights go to the original author

I was sent here about 10 years ago and i absolutely fucking HATED it!!!

I dont understand how these places are still open and how parents still send there children there. My best friend died in a wilderness program just like this in CO and his parents couldnt sue cause of the waivers these places have you sign incase your child dies and it was 1000% the programs fault that he ended up dead.

At Phoenix they did not care about the safety of the adolescence in this program. I ended up getting hypothermia multiple times the first time i was sent there due to lack of staff awareness and saw several other instances where peers in my group were injured with differed levels of severity including broken legs and other body parts. honestly most of the staff were just awful and i dont understand for the life of me how these places are still running.



søndag den 23. juli 2017

Book: The dead inside

The book is about the stay of Cyndy Etler in the so-called drug rehab Straight Inc. Today known as a rehab program which destroyed more lives than it helped, it was considered one of the best rehab programs for minors when it was created.

The book provides a deep insight in the cult environment which founded the basis of a program where it never was about healing the teenagers but just proving whather ever lose assertion parents might had about possible drug use of their children.

Buy it here:
Source Book or ask for it at your local bookstore using the ISBN-number: 9781492635734

fredag den 23. juni 2017

Reddit Acsent testimony

This testimony was found on Reddit. All rights go to the author known as candytripn

I went to one of these, Redcliff Ascent, when I was 17 (back in 2000). Parents seperated, bounced back in forth in legal battles, physical abuse on one side, verbal on the other. Typical teenage fun.

First, the program out there was a joke. It was nothing but forced punishment with some half assed attempts at counseling inbtween. Hindsight makes it easier to see, but even then I could see most of the kids/teens out there didn't deserve to be there, and the other maybe 20% needed to be somewhere where they would get real help. Hiking for hours a day in the desert, leaving off of rice and lentils twice a day, with a piece of fruit or an onion every other week, is not therapy.

The therapy sessions they did have, were little more than walking through the motions, something any 14 year old could do after a day of binge watching Dr. Phil. After 6 months of talking circles around these volunteer community college counselors, they had to just let me go. No graduation, no you passed.. just sorry, we can't help you, but tell your parents thanks for the money.

Coming home? I don't think there was one person there that wasn't worse off, with some major animosity. Stories of the "troubled teen" coming home all prim and proper are greatly over exaggerated. When I returned, I left. I joined the Army and after returning moved to the other side of the country. Took years to ever even begin talking to one parent, and still won't talk to the other.

It wasn't all terrible out there. I mean, except for hiking all day, being dirty constantly, getting little to no food at all, sleeping in the rain, dirt and even at times snow, I guess that wasn't too bad. I think what was worse, was that there wasn't even a semblance of caring or therapy. "Oh look at this brochure! Cabins, a lake, a group of smiling teens in shiny new red shirts around a fire with the campy counselor playing some trail song on his acoustic! What fun!"

No.. it was none of that. It was strip you naked, take everything away from you, and give you some dull used clothes. Blindfold you and drive you out into the desert, and drop you off with a group of stinking, dirty and downtrodden teens that would've look more in place in an Auschwitz documentary, a wilderness camp. From here you learn the cycle of wake up, eat rice, walk, walk, walk and walk some more until it's dark, eat rice, write a poem or talk about your feelings ("I'm feeling pretty pissed off" was the most common) then sleep and repeat. At least in jail you would've gotten 3 meals a day, a tv, a mattress and a shower.

What did I learn? Nothing, just animosity. Sure, I made some dumb mistakes as a kid. I smoked pot, I skipped a few classes and snuck out at night a few times. Was that deserving of being taken from school, denied graduation, losing my friends and being abandoned in the desert for 6 months? I'd say no... all it accomplished was a rift in the family that was never fixed. Though I suppose that in and of itself was a valuable lesson. You can't count on anyone but yourself.


søndag den 16. oktober 2016

Joel at Ascent Wilderness program

This testimony about a now defunct program was found as a comment to another blog. All rights goes to the original author known as Joel

I was sent to Ascent at age 17 in 2000 and it was the worst 6 weeks of my life. Personal belongings including clothes were confiscated during the initial strip search. They give you two sets of clothes, a sleeping bag, and some boots that you are to carry in a large bag everywhere you go. We slept in crowded teepees using our bag as pillows and every morning they would blow a whistle signaling its time to get up. We had 5 minutes to get dressed (we were forced to strip down to underwear to sleep in) roll up your sleeping bag and belongings and be outside in line at attention. If one person didn’t make it, everyone had to unpack everything in the teepee, strip back down to your underwear and get in your sleeping bag, and start over. This would sometimes go on until lunch time.

Daily activities included hauling logs in the forest, chopping and stacking wood, boot camp style physical training sessions, getting yelled at, and “group therapy” they called raps. I’ve been to therapy and this was NOT therapy. 2 weeks of the program was spent “on course” hiking an camping in the mountains with a small group and a couple counselors. I had a medical issue come up (likely from the stress) that kept me from participating in course (Doctor ordered). Their solution… return me to base camp and put me in a private tent secluded a few hundred yards back in the woods where I was NOT to emerge. Meals were brought to me and I literally didn’t leave the tent (except to use the bathroom) until my group was done with the 2 week hike.

Letters written home were screened and thrown in the trash if the staff didn’t like them. If you wanted a letter to be sent, you would have to leave out the part about the abusive practices of the staff and pretend like everything was peachy.

When you finish the program, they recommend you to attend the company’s boarding school if they don’t see you to be fit to return home. I always hustled, stayed focused, said yes sir / yes ma’am, and did what I was told to the best of my ability. Surprise surprise, they recommended I go to the CEDU (company that runs the place) boarding school that helps fund this god awful teen prison. I was one of the few lucky ones and my parents decided to bring me home. I am so glad to hear that CEDU was shut down in 2005. No kid should be subjected to that kind of place.


søndag den 18. september 2016

Reflection on a stay at Aspen Achievement Academy

Aspen Achievement Academy closed in 2008. Former enrollees at the program reflected on the closure. Here is a testimony

I am incredibly happy that they shut this place down...

I remember flying into Salt Lake City, and driving to Provo to spend the night at some people's house where they fed us Belgian Waffles and all sorts of stuff before starving me for the following 3 days... A banana, and a can of peaches???

I know my parents had no idea about what this place was all about... I was 14 and I can tell you that I will never, ever forget about this place.... Sleeping under the stars, and waking up with my hair frozen from the rain... Hiking 15 miles in a day, pushing a Wagon with all our gear, and people trying to run away throughout....

The best memories were when my parents came out and I ran barefoot down the gravel road to see them... Once my parents experienced what we had gone through it was eye opening for them... The best thing in Bicknell was the Milkshake place named Jillians that we all talked about everyday until we graduated and were finally able to get some real food....

Wow, 20 years later I feel like I was out there yesterday...